CCP urges vote on separation of presidential campaign and state

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on a bill to repeal the presidential tax financing system. The Center for Competitive Politics (CCP) strongly urges a vote to abolish the antiquated system of government welfare for politicians.

“Presidential tax financing is an politico-religious construct of the Washington elite with no demonstrated benefits,” said CCP Chairman Bradley A. Smith, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission. “In an era of austerity, this pet ideological project of self-anointed reformers needs to hit the chopping block.”

A Congressional Budget Office report released yesterday estimated that eliminating the program would save American taxpayers $617 million over the next ten years. Assuming that this $617 million represents money that would otherwise have to be borrowed, eliminating the program would also save in excess of $854 million in interest payments, saving taxpayers more than $1.4 billion. Even that underestimates the true cost of junking the program, as bureaucrat labor and candidate compliance costs are not considered.

“Beyond platitudes about ‘serving the nation well,’ supporters of the program cannot point to any evidence that tax financing of campaigns has curbed corruption,” said CCP President Sean Parnell. “Many people have claimed that Presidents Obama, Bush or Clinton were corrupt or indebted to interest groups, but no serious allegations rest on whether they participated in this political pyramid scheme.”

In the 2008 campaign, then-candidate Barack Obama declined tax financing for his primary and general election campaigns. The Obama campaign relied on maxed-out private donors to build his campaign juggernaut and later found success in raising small contributions. No serious future presidential candidate will likely accept the government handout under the current scheme.

“Even proponents of the program acknowledge that the system is broken and has been for a significant period of time,” CCP Government Relations & Research Director Laura Renz wrote in a Tuesday letter to congressional leaders urging repeal of the program. “Pro-regulation groups have promoted legislation to ‘repair’ the system, but that costly alternative rests on the conclusion that taxpayer money currently outlaid by the program is wasted. The choice is between increasing the amount of wasted dollars or simply eliminating the program.”

Since the program’s inception in the 1970s, taxpayers have funded the campaigns of former Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), of Keating Five infamy; ex- Gov. Milton Schapp (D-Penn.), later convicted of fraud; gadfly Lyndon LaRouche, who ran several tax funded campaigns, one from a prison cell, at a total cost of more than $5.5 million; and various other fringe candidates. American taxpayers have already recognized the futile waste of the program, reducing the tax check offs that fund it from 28.7% in 1980 to 7.3% in 2009.

The response of the White House and self-styled reformers is to gush more money into the program and hope against reason and evidence that it improves. Smith estimated that Congress would need about $750 million per year at a minimum to induce participation in the program among leading candidates, requiring trebling or quadrupling spending on the program. For $750 million a year, Congress could fund the combined budgets of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Consumer Products Safety Commission, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the Holocaust Museum, and the Federal Election Commission itself.

Virtually the entire case of the White House, which issued a Statement of Administration Policy opposing H.R. 359, and the regulatory lobby rests on (1) buzz-word laden talking points about eliminating corruption by reducing the influence of groups they don’t like and (2) touting the number of candidates who have historically participated in the program.

“When candidates rely on a government scheme for their funding, rather than individuals and groups, it fundamentally alters the relationship between the governed and the ruling class,” Smith said. “Congress should return to First Amendment first principles and create a doctrine of separation of campaign and state.”

The Center for Competitive Politics is a nonpartisan, nonprofit group dedicated to protecting First Amendment political rights. CCP seeks to promote the political marketplace of ideas through research, litigation and advocacy.

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.